Choosing the Best Popcorn Kernel

You buy your tickets, and take your place in line. You can smell the buttery goodness from afar. Finally, the attendant fills a bag full of salty popcorn and hands it over. Or maybe you are at home, with some of your best friends all huddled up ready to watch your favorite show together. At the movie theater or on the couch, those soft corny kernels keep popping up in our best memories. Popcorn is an entertainment snack staple, but not all types of popcorn are created equal. There is nothing worse than putting a bag of instant popcorn into the microwave, eager for a snack, only to discover a half-popped burnt mess. Or worse, you may find it tastes like a cardboard imitation of that movie theater taste. If you are looking to get the freshest, tastiest, poppiest bag of kernels on the market, look no further. We’ve done our research to bring you the best popcorn kernel for your needs and tastes. My personal favorite is Bob’s Red Mill Whole White Popcorn because of its white color and whole grains. I like jazzing my popcorn up with gourmet toppings to be both savory and sweet so I prefer white popcorn with a full, natural flavor. Red Mill is a brand I’m familiar with and is fairly easy to find as well. If GMO labeling, artificial ingredients, or organic farming practices are a part of your concerns, it’s good to do your homework before you buy. But don’t worry, I promise there won’t be a pop quiz at the end of the article. However, if you do not feel like reading through everything, here is a review of the main popcorn kernels I’ll be talking about and their main features.

BrandPictureQuantityFeatures
Bob's Red Mill White Corn Popcornbobs-red-mill-whole-white-popcorn27 Ounceswhite, whole grain, non-GMO, low fat content
Snappy White Popcornsnappy-white-popcorn4 Poundswhole grain, non-GMO, low fat content
Trader Joe's Organic Popping Corntrader-joe-popcorn1 Poundorganically grown, whole grain, non-GMO, low fat content
Pop Secret Jumbo Popping Cornpop-secret-jumbo30 Ouncesyellow, whole grain, non-GMO, low fat content, authentic movie experience
Amish Country Popcorn Baby White "Hulless"amish-country-popcorn-kernel6 Poundsblue, purple, and red kernels, whole grain, non-GMO, low fat content

 Why You Should Trust Me

My earliest memory of popcorn is from when I was in 1st grade and my mom and I grew tiny corn sprouts in a planter outside our house as a science experiment. Learning where my food comes from and how it grows has always been important to me and luckily I was raised with plenty of opportunities to learn. No matter where we lived, my parents always had a row of corn in the yard and movie nights were frequent occasions. I live in China now and buy my popcorn kernels from a farmer’s stand in a busy city market, but I still remember the many bowls popped at home, over the fire, or on the stove. Popcorn is a taste of home for me and something I have a passion for.

How to Choose the Best Popcorn Kernels

Whether you’re ordering from an online provider or shopping locally, there are many options to choose from and categories to review. Your style of popping, favorite recipes, and standards of quality will make this an easy choice once you understand what to look for in a popcorn kernel.

Make Sure It Is Fresh

The freshness of your kernels is a huge factor when it comes to taste. A stale kernel will not give you that light, earthy taste that is so adored by popcorn lovers. If you plan to order your kernels via an online supplier such as Amazon, you may want to think about how the process may affect the freshness of the product. Generally speaking, the fresher the kernels are the more flavorful the popcorn will be. If you are buying or ordering small batches you will probably have very few issues with freshness (as long as you are buying from a solid company). Ordering in bulk can create issues when leftover kernels become stale and waste your money. Estimating how much you will consume and in what time frame can help you make the right choice when ordering or buying your kernels. It’s important to order from a provider you trust and in an amount you can reasonably use. I’ve found Snappy White Popcorn to be consistently fresh in trials. Their product is shipped in an airtight container, which ensures it arrives at your door delicious and ready to pop. Their corn is grown in Iowa, which means if you’re ordering from within the U.S. the trip from farm to table is fairly short. This ensures that fresh, airy taste that popcorn lovers crave.

snappy-white-popcorn

Check Out the Packaging and Storing

Packaging options for kernels vary and in the end it comes down to preference. If you have a small batch and a large appetite, you may not see the need for a re-sealable container. However, those who order in bulk or are slow to finish their popcorn may like re-sealable option. If you are able to buy directly for a local store there is always the option of bringing your own container. A mason jar works perfectly for keeping kernels dry and fresh until you are ready to pop them. If you’ve never ordered popcorn before there may be a few things to look out for. Imagine you’ve ordered your kernels, only to find a disturbing lump of solid oil in the container. If you’re new to popcorn packaging, you may be alarmed and start looking for the customer service number. Actually, some companies ship their kernels with the oil pre-added. The brand Great Northern uses coconut oil in their kernel shipments, which turns solid if it is not warm enough. If you popcorn arrives in the colder months of the year you can expect to find a hard lump of oil in the bag. This is completely normal and to be honest, the coconut oil gives a much better taste than other oils I have tried.

Look Into Hull-less Kernels

Again, here we have a matter of preference. This is why it’s important to know what you like. As a teenager with braces, I remember the slumber party blues of not being able to eat popcorn with my friends. Traditional kernels often cause health issues for people with orthodontic appliances and diseases such as Crohn’s or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This is due to the hard to digest hulls that are easy caught up in dentures and retainers alike. If you struggle with eating or digesting popcorn hulls then hull-less kernels are a true gift. No one likes missing out on that classic popcorn taste and now you don’t have to. Many major brands, such as Orville Redenbacher’s and Red Mill, offer hull-less options for those looking to try something different. If your situation has recently changed and you’re missing the buttery goodness, then it’s worth your time to see if your favorite brand has a hull-less option that might work for you.

Go Natural

trader-joe-popcornThanks to the organic and whole foods movements taking place in many countries nowadays, we are able to track and purchase more and more natural products in our grocery stores. Even if you see popcorn as a buttery indulgence, it’s never a bad idea to consider more natural options. That fake cheese dust they spray on at the movie theater may taste great, but can have adverse affects on your health. Consider looking for low fat, organically grown, or non-GMO popcorn kernels. Apart from health factors, organically grown corn is better for the environment and the farmers who live and work the cornfields. Whether you are looking to save the planet or just lose weight, healthy kernel options are plentiful and worth pursuing. Trader Joe’s, a store well known for its natural food offerings, carries its own brand of all natural popping corn that is organically grown. While you can expect to pay a tiny bit more than the generic brand, you can rest easy knowing you’ve done your body and the planet a favor. Look for natural popcorn options online or in stores.

Test Out Different Manufacturers

Popcorn manufacturers are greatly varied. You can find companies with widely different practices in this small field of enterprise. The best way to find what works for you is to conduct your own trials. If you’ve narrowed your choices down to two equally promising candidates, the best way to decide is to try them both. You may find that you like doing business with a certain company more after experiencing their brand first hand. There are thousands of brands to choose from and where you live in the world will have an impact on what’s available to you. Here in China I am able to buy imported brands from the U.S. that I enjoy, such as Orville Redenbacher’s, but I’m glad to have stepped out of my comfort zone in buying kernels from a local shop. The best part about trying out different manufacturers is that it means holding a taste testing, and what could be better than that! Comparing popcorn kernels will help you to grow a deeper appreciation for this ubiquitous snack and the place it holds in our hearts. I’ve told you that Bob’s Red Mill sells my favorite kernels, which is a manufacturer I have dealt with in the past. However, I would also like to point out Pop Secret Jumbo Popping Corn as a top contender. Their service and product are excellent and I find that their yellow kernels are popular with those who value that authentic movie theater look and texture.

 Best White Popcorn Kernel

bobs-red-mill-whole-white-popcornI’ve got to have Bob’s Red Mill white popcorn kernels at the top of my list. Not only are grown in my country, but they are also a non-GMO crop with whole grains and a low fat content. They are easily available in stores or online, come in re-sealable packaging, and have a consistently fresh taste. I especially like white kernels for their old-timey look and their adaptability with flavorings. At 27 ounces per container, I never have much waste when using these kernels. I’m a regular popcorn snacker and these are my go-to product. While they may be a bit pricier than more notable brands, the quality of the product is worth a few extra cents to me. Honorable mention goes to Snappy White popcorn kernels. These kernels also have excellent taste and freshness. Their specialized airtight container ensures a consistent popcorn eating experience. While Snappy also takes care to produce non-GMO, low fat, whole grain kernels, there are two minor drawbacks that put them in second place. Firstly, their product comes in 4-pound containers, which is just too much for my household and me. Secondly, they are not as easy to find in stores. Shipping costs factored in from ordering online mean that I would do just as well to go to my local grocery store and pick up a box of Bob’s Red Mill. While both manufacturers deliver on taste and quality, it’s the matter of availability and logistics that place one above the other in my book. Of course, these circumstances may be quite different in your case, which is why I encourage you to do your research and determine what type of white kernel is best for you.

Best Yellow Popcorn Kernel

pop-secret-jumboIt’s so hard to narrow down this field that I’m going to have to call the 2 top products in this category a solid tie. Orville Redenbacher’s and Pop Secret both get the gold medal for best yellow popcorn kernels on the market. These companies are well known and reliable. Not only in my own experience, but according to the popcorn loving community as well, these kernels deliver excellent taste, texture and freshness. They are both considered reasonably priced options as well, which make them accessible to most popcorn enthusiasts. Both companies deliver a whole grain, low fat kernel that is delicious as well as fresh. Neither company chooses to market their products as non-GMO foods, which can be an issue for some. Personally, it’s an issue that I care about, but not entirely a deal breaker. I’ve enough enjoyable evenings gathered around a bowl of Orville Redenbacher’s that I can learn to look past this small detail. Because these are such well-known brand names in the popcorn sphere, you can also count on them to provide many options for taste and quality. For example, the Redenbacher Company offers the hull-less options I mentioned above. Certain members of my family suffer from intestinal difficulties, which ensures my support for any and all companies that strive to offer options to those in such circumstances. Both brands are widely available in most areas and very affordable. I recommend you find whichever of them is sold at your local grocery store and give it a try.

 Best Popcorn Kernels for Tight Budgets

Popcorn has never been a luxury snack, but as methods and fads continue to evolve the prices of certain popcorns are soaring. But don’t let this deter you from becoming a popcorn enthusiast. There are many affordable options on the market for those who love a great batch of popcorn, but don’t want to spend an obscene amount for such a simple snack food. While the most direct suggestion might be to grow your own popcorn kernels, space and time constraints limit that possibility for most of us. If you’re on a budget, I recommend Great Northern popcorn kernels, as well as many of the other well-known brands that I have mentioned above. With popcorn there is no need to worry about sacrificing quality for taste and price. Since it is such a popular snack item the market is saturated with options to choose from. Great Northern wins my vote due to their price friendly packaging and taste quality. They are an ideal brand for people looking for the value of a bulk purchase. Their 12 ounce portioned pack come in 24 packs at an affordable rate. This is perfect for families or singles that want to find a bargain and have consistently fresh product. The kernels come packaged in a moisture proof bag for total freshness with each and every pop. In my experience, only a very few kernels remain unpopped when you cook a package. Less waste and more pop for your buck make these kernels the most budget friendly option. Be sure to check online and your local stores for special sales and promotions or the more pricey brands as well. You can occasionally find a coupon or deal for one of the high-end options listed in the article as well.

great-northern-popcorn-kernels

Best Popcorn Kernels When You Want to Splurge

amish-country-popcorn-kernelYou can go to Pinterest and find board after board of gourmet popcorn recipes to try, but before the chocolate truffle and 3-cheese toppings make their way to your bowl it’s important to choose the perfect kernels. If you’re feeling rather fancy and looking to splurge on the highest quality kernels there are plenty of options out there to choose from. In larger cities you may find stores devoted entirely to popcorn, which offer a locally grown kernel and many customized flavor options. The “popcorn emporium” type shops are popular with younger people looking to upscale their favorite snack food. But if you’re not into that there are plenty of mainline brands that offer a high quality kernel. My top picks are Trader Joe’s and Amish Country kernels. Trader Joe’s organically grown yellow kernels are low fat, non-GMO, and whole grain. They can be found in many unique and artisanal flavors that are sure to satisfy. At 28 ounces per package, it is a good amount of kernels for the money. The Amish Country popcorn kernels are unique on this list and offer a different experience to those used to the standard white and yellow kernels. They use a special type of corn plant, which grows blue, purple, and red kernels. While the taste is similar to what you will find in the Trader Joe’s package, the almost vintage experience of eating a more rustic corn type is something that true enthusiasts are willing to splurge for.

Conclusion

With all the options available to us today through the Internet and large corporations, it can be overwhelming to begin an interest in popping your own popcorn at home. Hopefully this article has helped you understand what to look for when considering your options and given you an insight into the types available. It’s important to know where your food comes from and to take an interest in how it is made. Knowing what you like in popcorn and then finding a company that prioritizes these features is key to finding the right kernels for your needs. I love sitting down to my favorite movie with a bag of Bob’s Red Mill popcorn because I know I can count on the taste to be consistent and indulgent. I hope that each of you reading this article are able to find your own perfect kernel to make your entertainment snacking an enjoyable experience. If you already have a favorite brand or kernel type, let us know in the comments or on Twitter. And if you’re like me and enjoy a decadent popcorn recipe, share those with us as well! Popcorn enthusiasts are a wonderful group to be a part of and there is so much to learn from one another. Happy popping!

Cheyanne Lovellette

Cheyanne Lovellette

Cheyanne is an American expat currently living in China. She works as a freelance writer/editor and enjoys traveling, writing, and promoting gender equality. You can read more of her work at www.thethistlette.com.
Cheyanne Lovellette

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